The best eco-friendly safari park in South Africa? Sanbona Wildlife Reserve | REVIEW

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Elephants at the Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, Western Cape

Safari holidays can be a little divisive. You have either, usually, always wanted to go on one, or you are perhaps a little unsure and wonder if they are ethical. To be honest, I wasn’t sure it would be for me. But a trip to Sanbona easily changed my mind. We tagged a three-night stay at the wildlife reserve onto a trip to Cape Town, arranging for a driver to take us on the three hour road journey, through the awesome winelands. And stopping off to climb the biggest chair in Africa, obviously…

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The Sanbona Wildlife Reserve is a 54 000 Little Karoo, roughly the same size as the Isle of Wight, to give some perspective. The staff who work there think of themselves as custodians of the land and wildlife, and consist of ecologists, field staff and conservation managers. They manage the ecosystem, and provide lucky guests with an education in the local flora as well as the animals. Accommodation is sparse, and guest numbers are limited, to assist in the preservation. So no huge trucks packed full with tourists then? None whatsoever.

“Overlooking Bellair Dam and resembling a typical thatched Karoo homestead, Gondwana offers just 12 generously proportioned luxury suites, each with endless views over the plains, Anysberg-mountains and beyond.” Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, Gondwana Lodge

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You are taken out on early morning, afternoon and nighttime observation vehicles with a ranger, who will track the animals. No herding, just skilful, insider knowledge of the animals who live in the reserve, and a quiet, unassuming pursuit to discover, and observe them in their natural habitat.

Not knowing when to give up, coupled with a unrivalled sense of intuition are the qualities that differentiate between an average reserve ranger and a fantastic one. Luckily for us, upon visiting Sanbona Wildlife Reserve, we were teamed up with Marco; the most instinctive, and stubborn, ranger you could hope to meet. Our mission? To seek out the array of wildlife that call the 54,000 hectares that make up Sanbona, ‘home’.

CLICK HERE for more information on conservation at Sanbona 

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As well as elephants, rhinos, cheetahs and hippo, the most stealth spot on our list was the three-strong pride of white lion, of which there are only 450 in the world.

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Marco encouraged us to leave our truck when he had scouted out some animals, nearby. He told us that ‘if he didn’t look scared, then there was no reason for us to be’. In fact, we weren’t scared at all, he was so reassuring. We were just excited. His confidence and skills meant we got up close with cheetahs, elephants and zebras.

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How many cheetahs can you spot?

We stayed at the Gondwana Lodge, for three nights, during which, we took four safari drives, and, thanks to Marco’s tracking skills, saw all three white lions – from a suitably safe distance.

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Trundling along in the open-sided jeep, with blankets, hot water bottles and hot chocolate for company on the early morning drives, we also tracked down cheetah cubs, a herd of elephants complete with two-week-old infant, a ‘dazzle’ of zebra and a ‘tower’ of giraffes – don’t worry, your ranger is sure to teach you all the local lingo.

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Like Cape Town, the area is also malaria free, especially ideal when travelling with children. And the small one hour time difference, meaning lack of jet lag, is also a bonus for everyone.

Note: Always check vaccination updates with your doctor before you travel anywhere abroad. 

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After your adventure around the park, the Gondwana Lodge is a haven for relaxation and indulging in delicious food – think of it as fuel for your next trip…

We loved the infinity pool, with squishy beanbags and egg shaped chairs around the edge to lounge around on. The peace and quiet is unimaginable if, like me, you live in a city environment. It almost feels like you are in another world.

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I didn’t understand the draw of seeing wild animals before my trip to Sanbona, but now I get it. The sights are breathtaking. We tracked the herd of elephants from seeing them miles away when we were atop a ridge. Marco was able to cleverly work out exactly where they were headed, so we could pull up just behind where they came stomping out from the undergrowth in front of us – complete with the few weeks old infant.

So, a safari holiday to South Africa will be always full of memorable experiences. But, Sanbona offers all the benefits of a huge game reserve, with ample and varied wildlife spotting opportunities, alongside superb sunsets and close up, yet respectful, animal encounters – with the added bonuses of luxury accommodation and scrumptious food.

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A lunch stop off en route with our driver, Marco

Accommodation

At Sanbona, there are three accommodation options. Gondwana Lodge is the most suitable for families, with 12 large, luxury suites. Situated in the middle of the Karoo, the rooms offer endless views across the sandy plains, across to the Bellair Dam.

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Talk about a taking a dip with a view – the roll top bath and power shower are positioned so that you can relax and bathe while looking out over the great plains. All rooms also come fitted with a mini bar, air conditioning, under-floor heating, private deck or balcony and electronic safe.

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Other accommodation sites at Sanbona include the Dwyka Tented Lodge, a romantic setting for babymooners or honeymooners, and Tilney Manor, also a good option as it offers peace and tranquility in a traditional setting. There is also an on site spa – the Relaxation Retreat, which has two therapy rooms and a steam room. Since our visit, Sanbona has also introduced an Explorer Camp – a walking safari, and tent experience.

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On the road again! Trekking around the wildlife reserve with mum

What to eat

The three-course lunch and dinner menus at Gondwana offer something for every palette. From fresh fruit platters, herbal teas and exciting salads, to fillet of fish and chips and even local specialties, such as Kingklip or Springbok. Younger guests will be satisfied by a children’s only menu, including homemade fishfingers and a rather delicious macaroni cheese!

Note: All food is included in the overall price you pay for your stay, plus water and soft drinks, but alcoholic drinks are charged separately.

When to go

August to September is a great time to go to see the flowers at Sanbona bloom in all their glory and the dry season, is from November to March.

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The dry season is a good time to see the wildlife, although while visiting at the end of May, we saw a fair few newborn animals. Sanbona has a year-round mild climate.

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There’s that baby elephant!

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Extras:

  • The Little Karoo Interpretive trail, located in front of the main lodge. Take a walk through the garden of Gondwana, which is dotted with giant animal skulls, including an elephant and giraffe.

How to get there:

We flew with KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines, to Cape Town. As it was in May, the Winter season for South Africa, we changed at Amsterdam’s Schipol airport. The changeover was smooth and totally fuss-free.

You can make the most of your stay in South Africa by combining a safari trip with a stay in Cape Town. We stayed at the Cape Grace Hotel in Cape Town and The One&Only Cape Town, and travelled to Sanbona via private transfer, which was arranged via the hotel concierge. Read our roundup of the best luxury hotels in Cape Town.

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FEELING INSPIRED TO BOOK? WHY NOT CHECK OUT MY 3 OF THE BEST LUXURY HOTELS IN CAPE TOWN, OR MY ROUNDUP OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN CAPE TOWN FOR FURTHER TEMPTATION…

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